Assessing the environmental sustainability of an emerging energy technology: Solar thermal calcination for cement production

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Cement production is a highly energy-intensive process, contributing 7% to the global CO2 emissions. Over 80% of the energy used in cement production is consumed by the calcination process. This paper considers a novel solar thermal technology for calcination, to investigate if it could help mitigate the climate change and other environmental impacts from cement production on a life cycle basis. The following three solar options are compared to conventional fossil-fuel calcination via life cycle assessment: a full solar system, which provides all the required thermal energy, and two hybrid systems, where the solar system provides 14% and 33% of the thermal energy, respectively. The results show that all three solar options have lower impacts than conventional calcination in 14 out of 17 categories. The full solar system is the best alternative, with major reductions in climate change (48%), fossil depletion (75%), photochemical ozone formation (92%) and terrestrial ecotoxicity (79%). Based on insolation levels in different parts of the world, the solar systems could be applied to 26% of current global cement production. This would reduce the climate change impact by 15–40%, as well as most other impacts by 14–87%, depending on the fuel mix. However, a limiting factor might be two times greater land occupation than by the conventional process. Furthermore, the solar system has higher human toxicity-cancer (102%) and metals and minerals depletion (6%) due to the construction of solar facilities. Coupling conventional calcination with carbon capture and storage (CCS) is more efficient in reducing the climate change impact (63%) than the solar system (48%) relative to conventional calcination without CCS. However, adding CCS to the solar calciner would still be a better option, decreasing the impact by 81% relative to conventional calcination without CCS. These findings will be of interest to the solar and cement industries as well as other industrial sectors using high-temperature processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140510
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date26 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Jun 2020


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